Questions for the organisers of the People’s Vote campaign

The people's vote campaign need to clarify key questions of tactics, aims, logistics and strategy.

Like many on the left, I followed the People’s Vote march on Saturday with interest, and mixed feelings. Despite having many criticisms of the European Union, particularly after its handling of the Greek debt crisis, I voted Remain, and told other people (especially my parents) to vote Remain because I didn’t want my European friends to be unstable or unwelcome, and because a vote for Brexit would obviously be a victory for the far-right. I fit the ‘Remainer’ profile to the point of parody: I’ve moved from a small Home Counties town to London, frequently travel to EU countries for personal and professional reasons, and I am in the arts. Doubtless, I have lost work due to Brexit. If there were to be another vote on the United Kingdom leaving the EU, I would vote Remain again, for the same reasons as last time, but I have huge reservations about the idea of a People’s Vote as it currently stands.

Others have written about the practical unlikeliness of organising it before March 2019, but that is not my primary concern. My main anxieties about what such a vote might do to the UK’s social fabric and political institutions – none of which are addressed on their ‘Mythbusters’ page (the closest thing to a FAQ). So, I am posing them here (anonymously, because the questions are more important than who is asking), in the hope that the campaign’s organisers will address them – after all, the campaign will be far easier to support if its logistics, aims, tactics and strategy are made as clear as possible.

  1. Who sets the question, and what do you think it should be?

  2. Assuming the answer to 1. is Theresa May – why would she do it? How likely is it that the question she would set would be the one you want?

  3. Would Remain be on the ballot?

  4. Assuming Remain is on the ballot, do you think the vote could be a binary Yes/No one?

  5. If it’s not a binary question, do you think that a vote that came back with (say) 40% in favour of Remain, 30% for Theresa May’s deal and 30% for No Deal would settle the issue? If you don’t think it will – how large a margin do you think you would need?

  6. Rightly or wrongly, those who campaigned for Leave are already framing your campaign as a ‘Losers’ Vote’ for people who cannot accept that they lost a referendum. The more prominent your campaign becomes, the louder and angrier those voices will become, and more organised. (And, let’s face it, with much of the right-wing press and the BBC accepting their framing.) How do you intend to counter that, given that any vote with Remain on the ballot will be spun as a second referendum? (And yes, we have a General Election once every five years at least, and often sooner, but the difference is that we don’t have an election before the winners of the last one have been given a chance to enact their programme. Bear in mind also that at the last such election in 2017, 80% voted for parties whose manifesto promised to honour the result.)

  7. The last EU referendum climaxed with a Labour MP being shot and stabbed in the street by a self-declared British nationalist, after a toxic discussion about immigration that came after decades of right-wing scaremongering, liberal and left failures to counter that scaremongering, and a pro-EU campaign that largely accepted the right’s terms of debate on the issue. Very little seems to have been learned from Cox’s murder, and its political specifics. How would you ensure that a second vote on this issue would not be just as – or even more – unpleasant? How will you counter the full-on assault on the UK’s democratic institutions that will come from the far-right press, its political representatives and street movements?

  8. What will you say to people in Leave-voting areas – especially the ones who hadn’t voted before and saw this as their one chance to send a message to the political establishment – that they can’t have the thing they voted for? (Especially given that telling people how much money the EU provides to their region didn’t have much effect last time.)

  9. How will you convince people who voted Remain in 2016 but are not particularly animated by the EU as an issue, and are bored with the whole thing (as my mother, for example, tells me whenever the subject comes up), that they should vote again?

  10. Many people – myself included – feel the Leave campaign was abhorrent, and that its lies (especially the £350 million for the NHS bus) and overspending were cynical and dishonest. There are two General Election precedents here, both involving the most passionate Europhile wing of the Conservative Party (who, let’s not forget, called the referendum in the first place). The first is the 2010 General Election, when David Cameron promised that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS, and then embarked upon a huge top-down reorganisation, weeks after the coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats was confirmed. The second is Tory overspending on the 2015 Election campaign, which made little impact on the party and didn’t lead to any serious movement for the election to be re-run. How will you make a convincing case – especially to those who were unmoved by the levels of corruption detailed in the Leveson Inquiry or the Panama Papers – that the Leave campaign’s behaviour was significantly worse than the pro-EU wing of the Conservative Party’s behaviour, enough to justify a new vote?

  11. Why are you so certain that Remain will win, given how the 2016 referendum turned out? What will you do differently this time?

  12. If this vote is held, and No Deal wins, what would stop that being used to justify the hardest Brexit possible?

  13. What do you think should happen next if Remain were to win by a comfortable enough margin to prevent a third vote?

  14. And what will you say to people to say that if you don’t respect the result of the first vote, why should anyone respect the result of a second?

  15. Once all these questions are answered – who will lead your campaign?